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Mark Ritchie offers new technology that could resolve photo ID controversy

by Eric Ferguson on February 22, 2012 · 3 comments

Expecting some technological solution to resolve a political dispute seems far-fetched — but it’s not unknown, as could be attested to by the people trying to solve the horse poop problem in our big cities that threatened to make large areas unlivable — until electric streetcars and internal combustion engines suddenly came along and horses became scarce (as did smelly and unsanitary horse poop). This isn’t a perfect comparison (even though in big cities, horse poop is now as rare as, say, voter fraud) but the point is there might be a voter registration system that could satisfy both the believers in voter fraud who think photo ID could fix it, and those of us trying to protect the right to vote even for people who can’t get a photo ID.


Secretary of State Mark Ritchie explained it to a Senate committee:

During a Senate hearing on Friday, Ritchie described the electronic poll books made by Datacard, a Minnesota company. Like photo ID, the system puts a photo of the potential voter in front of the election judge who can decide whether the person is who they say. But instead of the voter providing the ID, which could be forged, the photo is securely pulled up from Minnesota’s drivers license photo database. The poll book could be on paper or on a computer.

If a person isn’t in the photo database, the person could register and have a photo taken on the spot. Because voting twice in an election is a felony, it’s very unlikely someone would risk being photographed committing the crime.


“The thing that’s important for me is that, number one, it keeps Minnesota number one in terms of leadership in election administration,” Ritchie told a Senate committee. “And number two, it creates that standard of broad bi-partisan support which Representative Benson referred to and Governor Carlson and Pawlenty – all the Governors before – have talked about.”


Ritchie estimates such a system could be implemented in Minnesota for about $10 million. That’s about $30 million less than the estimated cost of a voter photo ID system advocated by Republicans last legislative session.


The Uptake has shorter and longer videos of the hearing on the linked page. The gist is election judges would have photos of the voters right there in the poll books (the books the election judges have in front of them with voters’ addresses and a place for their signature), which should satisfy advocates of photo ID, and they should appreciate that this eliminates one of the objections of those of us opposing photo ID requirements, namely that photo IDs can be forged (I sometimes wonder that advocates seem to have never heard of fake IDs). It also eliminates the argument that a current technology is getting enshrined in the constitution, assuming, that is, that electronic poll books aren’t just added to the amendment bill.


Setting this up is still an unnecessary cost since it accomplishes nothing. I can also imagine the delays, especially the first time, as voters without photos have to have them taken and election judges struggle with unfamiliar equipment with the predictable technical issues. If the poll books connect to a central database, and it goes down on election day, well, every computer person reading this just shuddered. However, since the voter doesn’t have to acquire a photo ID regardless of their ability to do so, it gets rid of the disenfranchisement argument. This assumes the rules for voter ID remain as they are, namely that non-photo ID remains acceptable for registering. Such being the case, I could live with the rest. Yes, it still seems unfair and pointless to make people without photo IDs go through the delay of getting their photo taken, at least when lines are long and there are equipment or operator problems (if this is set up and you need a photo taken, go vote in the primary for local elections or special elections — no lines), but at least they won’t be told they can’t vote.


So photo ID advocates, what is your real goal? There you go, if that’s really what you want, photos without disenfranchisement. We could both be happy, or at least able to live with it. If your goal is just to suppress people who tend to vote Democratic, then you’ll keep pushing for the older photo ID technology — and we’ll keep fighting to protect the right to vote, deficits in opinion polls be damned.

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